Go To The Mountain

In gravity sports, there's simply no faking it. If I show up to the parking lot with a bike and talk the talk, at some point, I'm gonna have to back it up and walk the walk, or more aptly, ride. And as a rider, mechanic, and trail builder, I've earned the respect of my peers; they're the ones that can tell if I can pass the bullshit test or not. And getting there has been years and years of effort and practice.

Agile is a set of patterns and approaches that simply does not tolerate mediocrity or the status quo. As an agilist, I cannot simply spout off about all the incredible improvements agile adoption will bring. It's just not that simple. I have to be in it with the individuals and teams I work with as they struggle to figure it all out.

This month, I attended participated in the Scrum Alliance Global Gathering in Las Vegas as a volunteer coach in the Coaching Clinic and also presenter of two sessions in the Open Space. And I found that everyone I talked to that's in the trenches is, well, in the trenches. Like that squiggly line, the path is absolutely not straightforward.

Because it's not enough to know agile. I have to live it. I have to breathe it. I have to be willing to bleed it. Agile is a bit primal like that; once people get a taste, a glimpse of what is possible, they simply cannot and will not go back, squiggly line or not.

Perhaps this is why I am drawn to the edge, as one of my co-workers said "you manage to get yourself into some interesting situations." I am most alive at the edge of possibility, for myself, my family, for the teams I work with.

I went for my fourth mountain bike ride of the season this morning. The climb sucked. Kicked my ass. I ended up pushing my bike the last quarter of the way up the hill as my legs just didn't have the strength needed to pedal; I burned through all my excuses, though the question lingered: "is this biking thing worth it?"

And I had to ask myself, as I'm pushing 40 years of age (and the first rides of spring get harder each year) if I'm still in the game. I honestly couldn't give a clear answer on the way up (though I remember that I ask the same thing every year and it's always been worth it). However. And this is a big "however" to me: as soon as I pointed the bike back down, and what took me close to an hour to climb flew under my tires in mere minutes, the answer the entire time was a resounding "YES!!!" even more "FUCK YEAH, IT IS!!!"

Is agile worth it? Is it worth removing impediment after impediment? Is it worth coaching and witnessing and meeting teams and individuals where they are so they can follow that squiggly path to where they want and need to be? So far, the answer is "YES!!!" even more "FUCK YEAH, IT IS!!!"

Sitting With Grief

It's hard to know the words to put down, when there are no words, really. I listened to the news of the tornado today in Moore, Oklahoma; a town of 27 square miles in the middle of a tornado that devastated 30. I cannot imagine.

Later I received news of a friend with terminal cancer, a father of two very young boys and a husband to an amazing woman, he's back in the hospital.

And I remember the bombings at the Boston Marathon last month, the violence in Syria, Hurricane Sandy, so many places, so much suffering.

I spent extra time with my kids tonight, spent luscious lingering moments with my wife. In some ways, that's the best I can do. It's easy to post on FaceBook, easy even to send money. The hard part is to see, truly see: we are all this fragile. Our lives, as easily as any of these, could be shattered in an instant.

Last week I said goodbye to the team I've led and coached for over two years through this crazy world we call agile. And I openly wept and one by one each one of them gave me a hug and thanked me; a very short chapter in the story of what is real.

So as we sit together in our grief, our hearts reaching out to those whose lives have been broken open, remember to also sit in appreciation and reach out to those you love. Tell them that. Show them that. It is all so fragile...

River Safety

A few weeks ago I was invited on a river trip out in California; it was an amazing time, especially having not been on whitewater for 13 years. I spent the weekend in an inflatable kayak; that's my boat flipped just downstream from a river feature called a hole. I myself, well, I was deep in the river having been pushed under by the hydraulic forces. As one of the more experienced kayakers told me afterward "you were down there for awhile."

The interesting thing is, I didn't really think twice about putting myself and boat into the situation that would almost certainly result in me swimming. Partly because as you can clearly see, the river is deep and wide there, and there's a long stretch of flat water to recover in. It was also my third time through; each time I took a progressively bigger line. And there are boats all over the place, each one has at least one professional guide in it, and all eyes are watching the person in the rapid. Both for the pleasure of watching a friend play in the river, though also to come to my aid if needed.

As the days progressed we took turns doing this: watching each other, making sure there was always a boat on safety at the bottom of each rapid, and also one waiting at the top to respond if needed. It's just a basic part of being on the river: keep each other as safe as possible.

Great agile teams are like this, too. The members look out for each other and for the business; this type of support directly enables progression and healthy risk taking. Though it doesn't just happen; it requires conversations, agreements, skills, and practice, just like on the river. And it takes trusting each others' competencies. In some cases there are artifacts, such as written team values and conflict protocols that are in place to support a team's evolution (see Team Armor for more details on these).

There are so many ways that agile, well life, really, is like a river. Entering wild running water is its own risk, reward, and story. What kind of safety do teams you work with have to progress and evolve?